The best water-saving idea yet

Photo courtesy of John Cox

Photo courtesy of John Cox

My new water-conservation hero is John Cox, the executive chef at Sierra Mar, the restaurant at the much-loved Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur.

Two weeks ago, John decided to use the restaurant’s new air compressor to clean most of their dishes, pots, and pans before loading them into the dishwasher. His team had been using a nozzled water sprayer, which it still uses for tough clean-ups like chocolate sauce and egg yolk. The air compressor was originally purchased to clean the ovens, but then John cooked up a new use for it.

“By adding the compressed-air gun to the station we have been able to reduce the use of water in that area by 80 percent and actually increase productivity,” the chef says. John figures Sierra Mar, which had been using about 3,500 gallons of water a day, has cut consumption by 500 to 800 gallons a day.

Photograph by Kodiak Greenwood

Photograph of John Cox by Kodiak Greenwood

John did some back of the menu calculations and figured that, if there are roughly 60,000 full-service restaurants in California (as reported by the National Restaurant Association) and each saved just 250 gallons a day by using compressed air to clean dishes, this simple change could save 5 billion gallons a year. As John notes, this doesn’t factor in other large institutions—hospitals, schools, prisons, etc.—that serve millions of meals a day around the state. Nor does it factor in the dishwashing in other states across the drought-slammed West.

Any home application? “I didn’t think so initially,” John says, “but I’ve been contacted by a good dozen people interested in trying some version of this at home. Wouldn’t it be neat if that nozzle by the sink was shooting out compressed air?”

I like the way he thinks. Anybody else out there with water-saving innovations they’d like to share?


  1. jleegwrs

    Have you heard there’s another method to save water efficiently? Ever heard of a greywater recycling system? Now you have!

    Easy, simple, affordable and safe. What a wonderful total solution to save water, save money and save the environment by going green. What are you waiting for?

    July 17, 2015 at 8:50 pm
  2. Coming clean about wasting water | A blog by Sunset

    […] weeks ago, I chatted with chef John Fox about his switching to an air compressor to “scrape” the dishes and pots and pans at Sierra […]

    May 13, 2015 at 1:00 pm
  3. A Great Way to Save WaterPatioshoppers blog

    […] Read the full article here: The Best Water-Saving Idea Yet […]

    May 12, 2015 at 9:02 am
  4. C. Woelm

    Great water saving.

    May 9, 2015 at 5:03 pm
  5. JBannis

    Excuse me, but … compressed air?! Basically, he’s blowing scraps into the garbage disposal. How about scraping the the plates by hand and save electricity too?

    May 6, 2015 at 9:38 pm
    • Bonnie

      Look closer and you’ll see he’s blowing food into a small section of his stainless steel counter which I suspect is dedicated to a bin which collects food scraps. And, this prospect is suggested for high-capacity, high-speed turnover like restaurants, hospitals, etc. Unless one has a huge family with dozens of plates to clear 3 X a day, I think this isn’t viable for the average home (yet). I suggest you look closer before rushing to criticize–also, Sunset caters to all types of people, many of whom work in large businesses which are always looking for ways to conserve.

      May 22, 2015 at 1:50 pm
  6. Jan

    We could start by not sending millions of much needed water into the ocean.

    May 5, 2015 at 3:40 pm
  7. Marjorie Preston

    Gray water should be cleaned and reused for landscaping and everything except for drinking If the cost of the needed repipiping was too great they could start with new developments amd busineses.

    May 4, 2015 at 8:54 pm
  8. Bruce Anderson

    @Rosanna Hats off to Bruno’s! It seems to me that when you save water, there’s often secondary benefits, whether those are money savings, time savings, or a break for the environment (so, for example, when you don’t wash your car in the street, you not only save water but soapy water isn’t becoming ocean-bound runoff).
    @Rebecca I’m not a water hero, but my mom is. I’ll be posting soon about Mom’s 22 years of service to her local water board.
    @Alice I’m starting to think that almost all lawn watering is to excess anymore. My sister is using buffalo grass on her rooftop garden in Sonoma and it doesn’t require mowing or extra watering. We certainly need to rein in excessive watering, but maybe we also need to rethink what a “lawn” can be.

    May 4, 2015 at 5:19 pm
  9. Rosanna Herrera

    Bruno’s BBQ in Scotts Valley, CA started using upscale metal baskets with nice paper liners for all sandwiches, burgers and fires, anything that can go into the baskets…this is saving thousands of gallons by not washing the dishes they were once served on…and saving$$$ on the water bill!

    May 4, 2015 at 7:09 am
  10. Rebecca Funk

    Great job! 🙂 I think you’re a water conservation hero!

    May 3, 2015 at 10:01 pm
  11. Alice

    Private campgrounds in CA could stop watering their lawns to excess daily. In Aug. 2014 we observed huge amounts of water wasted this way in several areas of CA.

    May 2, 2015 at 11:33 pm

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